I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.
What are the chances of picking up a Playstation 4 on launch day without a pre-order or a game plan? Here’s how I did it.
Yesterday, November 14, began with excitement. The new consoles are finally arriving. The consoles I’ve been reading about for months. The consoles that are going to bring connectivity and social integration together unlike any before them. And I’m finally old enough, and (just) financially stable enough, to actually participate in the launch day festivities.
The only problem is that I never preordered.
Why? Why wouldn’t I turn my excitement into a financial commitment long ago, in the days following that show-stopping E3 press exhibition?
The answer eludes me, too. Why didn’t I do that? Perhaps it was hubris. Perhaps it was my instinctual knowledge that the chase on launch day would just be more exciting.
Whatever the real answer is, it probably has a lot more to do with a paycheck than any philosophical notion. Whatever the real answer is, I still ended up chasing the golden snitch on the night of November 14.
That morning, I rolled out of bed and checked the articles that thousands of others checked. The ones telling me where to find consoles untainted by a pre-order guarantee. After that bit of research, and armed with the belief that I would stop at nothing to partake in the excitement of a console launch, my buddy Daniel and I set out for some recon. Daniel, the former TV editor of CultureMass, was just along for the ride. Sharing the excitement of the rare opportunity to get a launch console on the first day.
First, it was Best Buy, where a man was already in line. He had been there since six in the morning. The employees looked at him with a mixture of fear and respect, telling me that he had beaten every employee to the store.
“Should I be worried?” I asked the employee.
“Well, first of all, that guy is crazy,” he said, pointing out the window. “Second of all, he isn’t that crazy. We don’t have a lot. You want to be at the front of this line.”
I had this conversation at ten in the morning.
Daniel and I headed to Toys R Us, thinking that perhaps nobody had remembered that the toy retailer also sells electronics.
When we walked in, we found the manager of the games section. A man who haphazardly just-for-menned his hair as if he’d fallen head-first into a barrel of shoe polish. He told us there might be one system, leaning in conspiratorially. “You see, Microsoft is a bunch of liars,” he said. “They’ve got these terms and conditions that lie to the customers. Ain’t nobody picking them in this war.”
We had no idea why he was talking about Microsoft. Neither of us had mentioned the company or their products, he just informed us that he didn’t trust the company apropos of nothing. He gave us this information like we were Microsoft interns. Like he was trying to set our careers on the right path.
Daniel and I never went back to Toys R Us.
The next stop was RadioShack. Who even remembers that RadioShack is a store? Unless you want a very specific wire for a cordless phone you bought in 2001, RadioShack is that weird place in the mall that sells hugely elaborate RC cars and off-brand sound bars. The perfect place to sneak a PS4 on launch day, under the radars of every other gamer.
Daniel and I walked into the store, finding it empty save the employees. I asked if they were getting any launch PS4s the following day. The man looked at me like I’d asked him what color his underwear was.
“We’re not even getting the PS3 until next week,” he told me. I’m not kidding. RadioShack is only just now getting a shipment of the PS3. Of course, this could be a store-specific fact, but it’s only fitting that RadioShack is only just now getting a piece of eight year old hardware for its store still inexplicably committed to bluetooth headsets for flip phones.
“Try Best Buy,” the man said, as we left the store.
Next up was Game Stop. A foregone conclusion, if there ever was one. The first place to sell out would obviously be Game Stop.
When I asked the cashier what the numbers were looking like, he had an answer locked and loaded. I must have been the millionth person in the last week to ask.
“Go to Best Buy,” he said. “Next to zero chance of you finding a launch console here.”
He then told me the manager would be back at two, if for some reason I wanted to ask her.
The recon came to a close when I had to head to work. It would be a few hours before I could start the bonanza properly.
At 5pm, Daniel and I rolled into the Best Buy parking lot. Eight people in line. Not so bad. But there were still seven hours of waiting left. And we had no idea how many systems Best Buy even had.
When I asked the employee that morning how many non-pre-order consoles they received, he gave me a shrug that suggested somebody told him not to let people know the answer to that question.
“So I could sit out there all day and not get one?” I asked.
“That’s about right,” he said.
“Why would you have people wait all day when you know how many you can give out?” I said.
He shrugged. I assume they wanted a picture of people wrapped around the store for the Spartanburg Gazette. An unfortunate practice, to be sure.
After a fast dinner, Daniel and I prepared for a long night of standing in place. In the frigid cold. For a chance at greatness, however long it really awaits.
When we got in line at 6pm, we were behind an enormous man in camouflaged coveralls. Not the man you expect to wait in line all day for a day-one console, but, who knows, the world is definitely changing. In a universe where a video game can make a billion dollars in four days, anything can happen.
The scruffy-bearded, middle-aged, camouflaged man holding an enormous sweet tea cup from Wendy’s (this story takes place in South Carolina), turned and told us he didn’t have any idea how many consoles were left. He said it with the contempt of a man buying a Christmas present.
Daniel and I didn’t bring chairs. Or games. Or books. We just brought each other. And it was cold out there. We checked our phones. It had been six minutes. Six hours remained, and we weren’t even guaranteed a console.
My phone rang. It was my wife.
“Go to Game Stop. Now.”
“The one right in front of you. Now. They have them.”
My wife is not a gamer. She’s just really good at finding things. At dinner, we’d sent her on a mission to find better situations around town, something she’s extraordinarily good at. She insisted on going to a Game Stop, even though we’d told her the story of the man that morning, who urged us to never return.
She didn’t listen. She went to the highest-volume Game Stop in our area and worked her magic.
“Hurry up. It’s a short line, and I’m right in front. You have to pay now.”
“Can they guarantee a console?”
I hung up, turned to the husky man, the ten year old boy, the teenagers playing DS, and, finally, the man who had been sitting in the same chair since six in the morning, and bid them farewell. After six minutes, I left the Best Buy line.
Daniel and I made it to Game Stop just as my wife hit the cash register.
“So I buy it now?” I said.
“Yeah,” the cashier said.
“And I get one tonight?”
“Yeah, we have plenty. For some reason, they gave us thirty-five extras.”
I looked around the store. We were one of four people in the entire building, including employees.
“Then why isn’t anybody here?” I said. The cashier shrugged.
I paid the man, and he told me to come back at midnight.
At a quarter-til-midnight, we rolled up to the Game Stop. A line was formed out front, all sorted according to the numbers on our receipts. We ended up behind a grandmother buying a Christmas present for the world’s luckies grandson. After some pleasant chatting, a couple comments on the people at Best Buy who braved the boredom and the cold, we were being shuffled inside.
A man in the back of the store was handing out solid black bags holding the shape of a rectangular box. He was standing halfway between the break-room and the show room, handing out the systems like he was Stringer Bell.
They called my number, he gave me a system, and then I left.
In total, I waited about sixteen minutes for a PS4 at the midnight launch at Game Stop. A man a quarter of a mile away waited eighteen hours in the cold for the same exact reward.
Like I said, I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. But as it stands now, my story is a rare one full of hope and promise.